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Regulating Your Emotions (S.5, Ep.8)

February 22

Butterfly on the Pebble Stone Stack against palm leaf.
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About This Episode

In this episode, Jessica Beckendorf and Bob Bertsch explore the profound impact of emotion regulation on health, well-being, and relationships. They delve into the importance of regulating emotions and the misconceptions surrounding it.  Bob guides listeners through a mindfulness meditation designed to cultivate equanimity, providing a tangible practice for integrating emotional regulation into daily life.



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Jessica: How we react to our emotions can impact our health, well-being and even our relationships. Regulating our emotional response can help us make decisions and take actions driven less by stress and more by thoughtfulness. Hi, everyone. This is Jessica and welcome to this week’s Practicing Connection Practicast, where we highlight a specific practice you can use in your life and work.

This week’s practice is focused on regulating your emotions. My Practicing Connection co-host Bob Bertsch will be guiding us through the practice in a few minutes, but first, let’s learn a little bit more about it. Hi, Bob. I’m so thankful that we have gone away from check your emotions at the door. I do remember those days when that phrase was used, and people thought that it was a healthy thing to do, right? I also know that this is still a super important topic. We may have gone away from that sentiment, but this is still an important topic in our offices. What are we actually talking about when we say regulate your emotions?

Bob: I agree. I think we should start with what we are not talking about, and as you mentioned, we’re not talking about checking your emotions at the door. Ignoring your emotions, for example, distracting yourself from emotions that are difficult or unpleasant is not the same as regulating your emotions. A model that I like to reference in trying to understand this is Gross’s process model of emotion regulation, and it defines points, or sometimes I think of them as actually activities or practices that we use to regulate our emotions.

The first point is we can avoid a situation that’s likely to give rise to a certain emotion. We know if I get myself in this situation, I might feel this emotion, so I’m just not going to do it. The second one is we can try to modify a situation to make it less likely to elicit a certain emotion. I think of this one as watching a scary movie on the couch and hiding my eyes behind a blanket. I’m trying to modify the situation a little bit so I don’t get so scared.

The third one is we can redirect our attention away from a certain emotion as it starts to arise, and I think most of us have experienced that, like we’re just going to go do something else or try and distract ourselves. The fourth point is that we can try to change the way we think about a situation that brings on a certain emotion. Sometimes this is referred to as rethinking. We’ll talk a little bit more about that later on, I think, in our conversation.

Then the last point is that we can regulate our response to the emotion, both psychologically and behaviorally. I think that is the most beneficial point or strategy, this last one, regulating our response, because it really prepares us for when all those other strategies, the previous four, fail, and we are emotional, our emotion is triggered, and we need to be prepared for that.

This is where emotion regulation connects with the idea of equanimity, which is a quality of mind that is referenced and cultivated in meditation practice. Equanimity is an even-mindedness or balance in which we’re able to disrupt the automatic reactions we have to stimuli, to external forces. If I put a warm chocolate chip cookie in front of you, you’re probably going to have the desire to eat it, and you’re probably going to make a judgment about that desire in your mind.

You might judge that feeling of desire as good, because maybe you haven’t eaten all day, or you had a stressful day, and you deserve a reward, or you might judge that feeling of desire as bad, because you think you should be able to resist it, or you just ate ten minutes ago, so you shouldn’t be desiring more food, “Why am I feeling this way?” What equanimity does is it helps us realize that the feelings we have, like our desire for the cookie, are neither good or bad. In fact, our emotions don’t need to be judged at all.

Avoiding those judgments helps us. It helps us better control the actions we take in response to what we’re feeling. Accepting our desire for the cookie, without judgment, can help us make a more thoughtful decision of whether to eat it or not. Research has shown that meditation and other mindfulness practices can increase our equanimity, which makes it possible for us to remain calm, make decisions and follow behaviors that are driven less by stress and arousal and more by our thoughtfulness.

Jessica: This is really interesting. I see a lot of connections to emotional intelligence and how equanimity and mindfulness activities can help there. There are already so many pressures on our time, though, and developing a long-term approach seems like it’s another thing that we need to try to add into our days, another box we need to check. What if we don’t feel like we have time to practice something like this regularly? How can we still benefit from some sort of practice?

Bob: I think regular practice is really important, but I understand we’re all busy. Maybe we can start here. In the moment when you’re trying to regulate an emotion, practices like box breathing can be helpful. There are variations on this practice, but the one that works for me is to, when I’m confronted with an emotion that I feel like I need to regulate, is to start by breathing in for a moderate to slow four count. Something like one, two, three, four. I’m breathing in that whole time.

Then hold that breath for that same four count. Then exhale for the same amount of time for the same four count. Then wait, don’t breathe in, wait for a four count before taking your next breath so that you can see the box. Because there’s four sides, each have the four count in them. Repeat that two or three times, and doing so can decrease your stress and help you be more mindful of your reactions to the emotion you are feeling. You could take that box breathing practice that you’re doing in the moment and expand that maybe when you’re not in a stressful situation, maybe you have a little bit more time and space to really be aware of how an emotion makes you feel.

Then you could use box breathing and try to accept the emotion without judgment and give it time to pass because emotions are temporary. They really will pass. Sometimes they don’t feel like it, but emotions are temporary. They will pass. You could start out by a couple rounds of box breathing and then pay attention to what’s happening in your body. Make sure you’re feeling what’s happening in your body, acknowledge the emotion you’re feeling without judgment and then just wait for it to pass.

Jessica: Now, let’s talk about developing the skill long-term. I definitely wanted to ask about what if we feel like we can’t, what can we do. Now, as we begin to develop this skill long-term, how does it change us?

Bob: There’s a study from 2021 of equanimity. Catherine Juneau and their colleagues reasoned that mindfulness practices may lead to a de-automization of the relationship between stimuli and effective evaluations. Basically what that means is that those external forces, the stimuli won’t automatically necessarily lead to judgments about our emotions. That’s automatic. Practicing mindfulness helps de-automatize it.

If we can start to de-automate our emotional processing, then we can have more neutral reactions to our emotions. In other words, equanimity, and that can help us avoid actions and decisions we might regret. It also helps us actually feel our emotions instead of avoiding them. I think the ability to be aware of and feel your emotions can really help us be more empathetic, which as we’ve talked about on the podcast before, can help us build our relationships and really truly empathize with someone feeling that same emotion because we actually understand it.

Jessica: Okay. Before we get into the practice, what if I don’t want to feel what I’m feeling? What are the consequences of not developing some sort of emotional regulation practice like this?

Bob: The research indicates that not regulating your emotions, and researchers refer to this as emotional dysregulation, that it’s linked to the relationship between PTSD and its effects on health, that emotional dysregulation negatively impacts our dietary decisions, and just the belief that we can’t regulate our emotions has been linked to symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Everybody’s consequences are going to be different. For me personally, the consequences are and have been in the past, negative impacts on my relationships. My inability to regulate my emotions has led to arguments and misunderstandings and confrontations and actions that have damaged some of my relationships, and in some cases, it’s caused me to disengage from someone, and I’m guessing it might have led some people to disengage from me because of just not being able to regulate our emotions.

Everyone makes mistakes, and hopefully, the damage done to relationships can sometimes be repaired, but better emotion regulation would have helped me avoid doing some of that damage in the first place. I think that’s one reason why it’s really an important practice.

Jessica: Yes, I think it’s really interesting that this is really about your reaction to the emotions that are coming up for you. Because we can’t stop our emotions from happening, but we can think about what our reaction is to it, and we can maybe achieve some equanimity there. Okay, so let’s get started. Walk us through a practice.

Bob: We’re going to do a mindfulness practice. I’d like to invite you to join me in a short meditation to help us cultivate equanimity. This meditation was adapted from a guided meditation led by Diana Winston. Let’s start by finding a position that’s comfortable. Then I want you to take two intentional breaths. Invite yourself to relax, release any tension that you’re feeling and try and connect with the feeling of your feet on the floor or your butt on the chair. Just make sure that you’re feeling grounded. Close your eyes if it’s comfortable to do so. If not, you can just soften your gaze.

Now that we’re settled, I want you to recall a time when you felt even-minded and balanced. Maybe it was a time where you were about to yell or say something in anger, but instead, you took a pause and really felt your balance or another time that you felt particularly balanced. Try and bring that experience to mind. Where were you? What did you see? What did you hear? Try and get yourself embedded in that moment.

See if you can put yourself there and feel what you felt. Can you feel how your body felt? Can you feel your feet on the floor? Did you feel hot or cold in that moment? What were you feeling in your chest? Bring those feelings to mind and see if you can evoke them in your body right now. We’re going to use some words to help us solidify this feeling of balance. You can repeat these words to yourself or say them softly. If these words don’t feel right to you, you can choose your own words that get to the same idea.

Here are the words that I’ll suggest. Things are as they are. I can be with things as they are. Things are as they are. I can be with things as they are. Now, I’d like you to imagine something that’s made it difficult for you to be balanced. It could be something simple, something your kid or partner said or did, the traffic, the weather, or it could be something bigger, difficulties at work or with family, or maybe a loss you’ve suffered.

As you remember this situation, notice what happens in your body. Maybe there’s some tightness or tension, some contraction or constriction or maybe a desire to move away from those feelings that happened in that situation. Maybe you don’t like it. You wish it were different. Just breathe and try to notice what you’re feeling. Now, let’s use some words to help us remind us of our capacity for equanimity. Imagine sending these phrases to yourself in that situation that made it difficult to be balanced.

Things are as they are. I can be with things as they are. May I weather this situation with grace, with equanimity. Things are as they are. I can be with things as they are. May I weather this situation with grace, with equanimity. Check in with what’s happening in your body. Has anything changed? As you say the words, try to connect with the feelings of even-mindedness and balance from the first experience you recalled in this meditation. Things are as they are. I can be with things as they are. May I weather this situation with grace, with equanimity.

As we end this meditation, bring your attention back to your breath or the feeling of your feet on the floor. Take a moment to get settled back in the present moment. Open your eyes if they’ve been closed and look around you to ground yourself. The next time you need to regulate your emotions, you can turn your attention to your breath or a specific feeling in your body. You can repeat the words you used in this meditation, or you can give yourself the time and space to feel that emotion without judgment. Let the emotion pass and go forward with equanimity. Thank you for practicing with me.

Jessica: That was awesome, Bob. Thanks so much for guiding us through that.

Bob: You’re welcome.

Jessica: That’s it for this episode. Thanks for joining us. We hope you’ll give this practice a try and share your experience in the Practicing Connection LinkedIn group where people supporting military families practice the skills that empower us to work together so that we can positively impact our communities and help families thrive. You’ll find the link to the group on our website at We’ll be back next week with a practice for giving and receiving feedback. Until then, keep practicing.

Speaker 1: The Practicing Connection podcast is a production of OneOp and is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture, and the Office of Military Family Readiness Policy, US Department of Defense under Award Numbers 2019-48770-30366 and 2023-48770-41333.


[00:16:37] [END OF AUDIO]


February 22
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